Thursday, December 5, 2013

The First Question Is Not, "Where Are Our Youth?"

The church is desperate to connect with children and youth, and it shows.

Showing desperation probably doesn't help connect with young people. Often our approaches to connect with young people operate like quicksand, the more desperate you act, the deeper your problem becomes. While some people may be willing to help a desperate person, it's hardly the foundation for a good relationship.

How do you feel when you are approached by a desperate person? On a good day I feel compassion. On bad days, I look for an escape route--or if I can muster my connection with the presence of God, I can offer some dignity, but I brace for the worst.

During a recent workshop on social media ministry, one of the guiding questions sought by the group was, "where are our youth?" If you haven't heard the news already, just because your church has a Facebook page doesn't mean youth will flock to you. Actually, it may have the opposite effect. That doesn't mean you should abandon Facebook or social media in general for outreach; consider the foundations of your relationships and go from there.

A tried and true principle in outreach has often been "go where the people (kids) are." This has worked for years with business and ministries. As ambitious adults, however, we want everything in the relationship based on our terms. Complete control. I think this has a similar effect on the people with whom we want to connect as desperation does. More quicksand.

In my own move to "go where the kids are," my congregation has helped sponsor a youth basketball league beginning last season. I coached kindergarten and 1st graders. I was proud of myself for going where the kids were. I soon realized that I needed to be more aware of what the kids were bringing. Too often I heaped my expectations on the gathering rather than enjoying the kids for who they were. Last season was tough. Life in the church has programmed me. I have to deliver content about God and Jesus, and don't let anything else get in the way! I was looking at youth basketball the same way, and it showed. The season wasn't a complete loss, but I needed to realize that content will come. Primarily, if the people with whom I'm trying to connect don't see any joy in me, I'm wasting my time. All they will see is desperation, and our time together will merely become something to check off on a calendar, if there is any opportunity to meet at all. People will eventually vote with their feet.

This season is a little different. First of all, I'm showing the kids that I'm glad to be with them. When I showed them that, they became interested in what I might have to teach them. This reminded me of another principle that I need to carry with me more often. Whether I am with kids or adults, on my turf in the church, or out in the community, "people don't care what you know, until they know that you care." My joy needs to show.

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